A Virginia priest who was once a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan has apologized and paid money he owed to a black family he terrorized more than 40 years ago. However, the family is not ready to accept the apology.
In 1977, Father William Aitcheson burned a seven-foot-cross on the front lawn of Philip and Barbara Butler. It was just one of the six crosses and several threatening letters he was found guilty of.
In a letter released on Friday, the former KKK leader now turned priest said it was because he didn’t want the black couple living in an all-white neighborhood. He also said that the one thing keeping him from apologizing after so many years was his shame.
Aitcheson has since sent a handwritten apology to the Butlers as well as two checks totaling $23,000, which the family had been awarded in a civil suit from the original incident. Aitcheson also agreed to pay the family’s lawyer fees amounting to $9,600.
However, to the Butler family, the apology was insincere and they told WUSA9 that they aren’t ready to forgive.
For the Butlers, one of their concerns is that the former KKK leader has since become a priest in a Roman Catholic Church and is living just 12 miles away. The Butlers say that the church knew about his previous KKK involvement and should have had him come forward after learning about it.
A spokesperson of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington says that the church was aware of Aitcheson’s past, but not of the Butler’s civil suit. They said they learned of the suit in August and Aitcheson is currently on leave. In a press release, the church also said they support Aitcheson’s recent apology and payments to the Butler family and that he had no legal obligation or obligation under Church law to make restitution.
According to the Butler family’s attorney, Ted Williams, the family is researching a lawsuit against the “church’s blatant attempt to cover for Father Aitcheson.” Williams also said that the church allowed Aitcheson to post a public confession in the church’s newsletter, causing harm to the victims.
The family is also seeking the interest accumulated by the civil lawsuit. At the time, Aitcheson never paid the award amount and according to court papers, the judgement lapsed and was no longer collectable. According to Williamson, this is due to the failure to renew the judgement after 12 years by the firm representing the family at the time of the cross burning incident, Steptoe and Johnson. Interest from the original judgement would now be more than $68,000, which the family is currently seeking to be paid by Steptoe and Johnson.
The full letter is below: